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Pankaj Vohra

BJP entices caste leaders with CM ambitions

The BJP knows caste tension among its supporters could ruin its chances.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is marching towards a certain win in Bihar with the majority of non aligned castes also now falling in line to support it, following a crack in the grand alliance of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad Yadav and Rahul Gandhi after the exit of Mulayam Singh Yadav. In fact, even if Mulayam had not deserted the sinking ship, the BJP was likely to be a clear victor. In a state obsessed with caste politics, the BJP is on cloud nine with virtual unanimity amongst forward castes, the Maha Dalits and a large section of the OBCs to back it.

Being a shrewd politician, who has fought many electoral battles, the Samajwadi Party supremo has apparently seized the opportunity to decimate three players who could have obstructed his path of pursuing his prime ministerial ambitions. By declaring that he would consider contesting on all the 243 Assembly seats in the state, Mulayam has sent a strong message to Nitish Kumar, Rahul Gandhi and even Sharad Yadav, to clear the way for him in the 2019 clash with the BJP in the Parliamentary polls. The defeat of the alliance by BJP would ensure that Mulayam emerges as the sole challenger.

The Samajwadi leader draws his strength from the fact that his party is in power in adjoining Uttar Pradesh and he has no dearth of resources. He has enough financial backing from powerful lobbies in his state, as well has campaigners even outside the family such as Reoti Raman Singh, Azam Khan, Abu Azmi and Naresh Agarwal, who could sway the voters in some of the Parliamentary constituencies such as Buxar, Sasaram, Siwan, Maharajganj, Chhapra, Balmiki Nagar, Motihari and Shivhaar.

In other words, the battle of Buxar (including the other constituencies mentioned) is the key for throwing up a challenger to Narendra Modi in 2019, Mulayam being fully aware of this. His well planned exit from the grand alliance has attracted established leaders such as Tariq Anwar of the Nationalist Congress Party, Pappu Yadav and Datan Yadav towards him.

Mulayam had watched with keen interest when the Janata Dal (United), the Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Congress sewed up the alliance. Knowing fully well that a reluctant Lalu was forced to support archrival Nitish, Mulayam waited with strategic patience till the eve of the election announcement to pull out from the alliance, attracting criticism from some in the Nitish Kumar camp, who accused him of helping the BJP. The Bihar election was being seen by political analysts as the semi final before the 2019 polls. If Nitish would have won, it would have been at the cost of Rahul Gandhi who continues to be projected by the Congress as the principal opponent of Narendra Modi. But if a combination of both Nitish and Rahul loses, it is Mulayam who alone would remain in the ring to lead the charge of both the so called secular brigade and the regional parties.

On the other hand, the BJP is treading its path carefully in the state and knows that any kind of caste tensions amongst those supporting it could ruin its chances. It is not very often that the Rajputs and the Bhumihars end up supporting the same party, but this time it is happening primarily because of tactical mistakes by the grand alliance. The powerful Bhumihars had not made up their mind to back the BJP till Nitish Kumar arrested two prominent leaders of the community — Anant Singh and Sunil Pandey. This act alone ensured that the Bhumihars, who were already wary of Lalu Prasad Yadav, decided to move towards the BJP as the Congress lost its chance of getting their support by entering into the grand alliance.

The BJP has tactically not announced the name of its chief ministerial nominee in Bihar, fuelling speculation that Sushil Modi, former deputy CM would be its choice. However, the BJP's campaign managers are consolidating their position amongst various castes by creating an impression that the next CM could be from their respective communities. For instance, the Rajputs believe that Radhey Mohan Singh, who is close to the Prime Minister, may be the favourite.

The Bhumihars have been conveyed that the coveted post could go to Chandra Mohan Rai. The Keoris are waiting for their leader Upendra Kushwaha to be given the honour, while Prem Kumar is the possible nominee for the said post of the Kahaars. Similarly, Nand Kishore Yadav could be the choice from amongst the Yadavs. The Maha Dalits are convinced that either Jitan Ram Manjhi or Ram Bilas Paswan could make the grade. Thus the choice for the Chief Minister has been kept in abeyance while party managers dangle carrots before support groups.

The Bihar polls are utmost crucial for all the players involved. But in this complex scenario, a BJP victory here would serve to reinforce the leadership of Narendra Modi.

Many of his critics feel that a defeat would be a major setback for him, coming soon after the Delhi debacle. However, a win would put the Prime Minister at yet a higher pedestal. Between us.

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